Recently Representative Shuster introduced the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Bill. This Bill can impact commercial drone operations in a significant manner. Bear in mind that is a proposed bill. Representative Shuster is making suggestions that the FAA might or might not agree with.
The 2018 FAA Reauthorization Act intends to fund FAA operation till 2023. This is a big bill that covers many aviation aspects outside the drone law. (Air Traffic control and certification of airplanes for instance) Another interesting fact is that language of previous bills has been incorporated in the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Bill. For instance, Sections 331 to 336 are quite similar to the Modernization Act of 2012. Some language from the Air Act of 2017 has also been lifted and incorporated into this bill.
In this blog post, I discuss some important aspects of the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Bill. I start off by discussing the proposal to levy an additional fee or tax. Is this additional fee justified? What is the purpose of this fee? The second important point that I discuss is the air carrier certificate requirement for “carriage of property for compensation or hire”. Why is this significant for the drone delivery business? And lastly, I discuss the bill’s proposal to share approved Part 107 waivers. Will this move help increase the approval rates for Part 107 waivers? Read on to learn more about this proposed bill which can have a significant impact on drone operations.
Recently Eric Fanning, the head of Aerospace Industries Association highlighted the need for increased FAA funding due to increased drone activity. The FAA has made a budget request of $16.1 billion in 2019. This is down from their 2017 spending of $16.9 billion.
The 2018 FAA Reauthorization Bill also proposes new ways of financing a “safety oversight” mechanism and an air navigation system. This Bill proposes that the Controller General of United States conduct a study to gauge whether it is appropriate to levy an additional fee on drone pilots.
This purpose of this fee is to facilitate safe drone operators. Is an additional fee really justified? Let us dive deep and look at the statistics. At present there are about 70,000 Part 107 registered pilots and 800,000 registered drones. However, the total number of unregistered drones in United States is far greater.
Now, if an additional fee is levied, registered Part 107 pilots shall be the ones who will have to bear this additional financial burden. It is likely that this fee shall be on the form of a tax. (In order to introduce an additional tax, the FAA needs to get an okay from the Congress.)
There is no denying the good intentions behind the proposed introduction of this additional fee – Building the infrastructure (read UTM) for safe flight.
But, why should registered pilots be the only ones footing the cost of this infrastructure? And considering FAA’s mammoth 16 billion dollar plus budget, isn’t this fee nothing but a drop in the ocean?
Sure. It is admirable that the federal government is attempted to regulate drone laws. Many state and local bodies are planning on introducing regulations. However, new drone laws and regulations are often introduced without conducting a proper study. Often local regulators have a poor understanding of how the drone industry works. Without knowing what you are regulating, can you really come up with sound regulations?
Section 45510 of the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Bill is clearly structured to permit drone delivery operations (Read Amazon Prime) to finally take flight. This Bill also proposes the requirement of air carrier certificate to carry property for compensation or hire. So, will this air carrier certificate create an entry barrier for the small guy? And will drone delivery operations become the sole domain of larger, organized players?
An air carrier certificate might mean the introduction of risk based guidelines. A payload limit is likely as well. (Delivering small packages via UAS is environmentally friendly and is commercially viable also)
Difficulty in flying BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) and flying over people means that the future of drone deliveries is in a state of flux. Sour equations between Bezos and Trump are not helping the cause of drone deliveries as well. Check out my Medium Article, “Amazon Drone Delivery – Dream or Reality” to learn more about Drone Delivery Operations.
In its bid to make the system more transparent, the 2018 FAA Reauthorization Bill proposes the sharing of approved Part 107 waivers. This could prove to be beneficial to the UAV pilot. Right now the FAA does not have a systemic approach for granting waivers. Sharing an approved waiver will level the playing field. Currently the approval rates for Part 107 waivers are abysmal. Sharing samples of approved waivers should help address this problem, and hence help expand drone operations. This is another snapshot which highlights the FAA’s willingness to grant more waivers.
The 2018 FAA Reauthorization Bill has its shares of pros and cons. The proposed levy of additional fees on drone pilots does not make sense. Considering the huge capital requirements for UTM, this is but a drop in the ocean. So, while the intent is noble, there is a need to come up with an alternative funding solution.
Likewise, there needs to be more clarity with regards to the issuance of an air carrier certificate. Proposed requirements for a carrier certificate should not result in drone deliveries being the sole domain of larger players. And lastly, sharing approved waivers is a step in the right direction. It could result in greater transparency, and help expand drone operations.
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